A Tale of Three Bands

18 Nov

Gonna talk a bit about three 80’s bands tonight: ARTISTIC DECLINE, BATTERY FARLEY, and LEFT INSANE. These bands came at music from very different places, referencing separate aesthetic agendas, exhibiting few if any overt musical similarities. That said, they all hailed from that neck of Southern California I grew up in, and somewhat incidentally actually had some overlapping members. None of these bands ever got the kind of attention they deserved, but I recommend checking out any/all of em, as their tunage is spun frequently here at Chez PS Recon.

ARTISTIC DECLINE – “Reality Or Dream” (Random Violence CD, lowartmusic, 2006) A quartet active in the early/mid 80’s South Bay hardcore punk scene. All the love em or hate em hallmarks of suburban HC are on display here: the nasally rants about political and parental targets, the over reliance on polka beats, and those midsong drops from double-time to half-time (think TSOL’s “Code Blue”). But . . . listen a little closer, and you’ll hear any number of curious, arty considerations too: quite severe & angular chord progressions ala THE URINALS, jolting blink-and-you’ll-miss-em song structures learnt from early MINUTEMEN records, and aggro but occasionally harmonized vocals. ARTISTIC DECLINE really were straining to burst the arbitrary shackles of HC convention, ca. ’83.

This places em in higher company, for sure. Rather than just another SUICIDAL TENDENCIES clone, ARTISTIC DECLINE came across like a younger, kid-brother version of 100 FLOWERS, with their only real peers around the South Bay at the time being the great and equally overlooked SECRET HATE. This 29 song CD collects most everything they did after their first EP in 1983, and I can vouch for the fact that, in 2009, the entire thing will hold your undivided attention every goddamn time you spin it. Maybe if ARTISTIC DECLINE had started out on New Alliance instead of New Underground, they’d be better remembered today? Maybe.

BATTERY FARLEY – “Flag Waving Idiots” (S/T double 7″ 45, Fission Arts, 1985) Named after both mainman Jeff Farley and the Point Fermin military bunker in San Pedro where much of this was recorded, BATTERY FARLEY was the band ARTISTIC DECLINE’s gtrist Jeff Charreaux moonlighted with during those very same early/mid 80’s years when he wasn’t feeling particularly hardcore. So what the heck was this? New wave is too derisive, synthpop too reductive, and nobody in the South Bay knew what the heck coldwave was back then – so call em artpunk. In 1985, BF released an awesome double 7″ that serves up, among many other things: moody, floating pop disassociation (“Help Me Down” and “Doctors”), a frozen instrumental that could’ve been a Blade Runner soundtrack outtake (“1985”), and the most manical rant ever to target the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles (“Flag Waving Idiots”). For those that missed the passing of ARTISTIC DECLINE, the near-HC rage of “Merging Buses” wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the aforementioned Random Violence CD. As if that’s not enough, there’s some neat herkyjerk gtr scattered throughtout, courtesy of Paul Radabaugh . . . but more on him later.

Taken in total, the mix of styles and sounds is so unlikely, I’m gonna call this mind-expanding in the literal, hippie sense of the word. Their later Dress For Obscurity EP couldn’t possibly top this early peak, but does continue doing a damn good job of keeping me guessing, entertained, and kinda nervous in pretty even amounts. If DEPECHE MODE and their ilk had been this appealingly off-kilter back then, I might still have a sideways haircut to this very day. One day, very soon, this stuff’ll be reissued by lowartmusic for the masses to finally appreciate.

LEFT INSANE – “Beginnings” (Tool Box, Nemesis/Cargo, 1990) I’m not the first to call these guys “kinda SSTish” – hell, the band themselves once acknowledged this in an interview published in an old issue of Suburban Voice. LEFT INSANE cut an instrumental path that picked up at the proggier end of late 80’s DESCENDENTS and left off within earshot of Greg Ginn’s GONEtogical arguments from the same period. Which makes sense: drummer Tony Cicero had been in SACCHARINE TRUST, and their original bass player and producer was Stephen Egerton, better known for his playing with THE DESCENDENTS and ALL. But this band was actually led by gtrist Paul Radabaugh, who’d previously been the hidden gtr weapon in BATTERY FARLEY’s otherwise synth-heavy artillery. Go figure.

Everyone in this trio could play play their asses off, and thankfully they left behind a good 7″ and this great CD as proof. A modern reference point would be the post hardcore heaviness of STINKING LIZAVETA. LEFT INSANE were equally tightly coiled, expansively jammy, and/or explosively raging, depending on mood and inspiration. And as STINKING LIZAVETA has now gone and covered JIMI HENDRIX’s great “Power of Soul“, so too LEFT INSANE once went and blew the top off JIMI’s “Beginnings”. Oh man, does Tony C. ever kill on that one.


11 Responses to “A Tale of Three Bands”

  1. mark November 19, 2009 at 8:09 pm #

    Great tunes! My fave aspect of Artistic Decline is the singers’ accents-great SoCal inflections!
    Batter Farley is truly WEIRD. Wow, what a mash-up! For some reason I’m thinking of the movie Suburbia. That and Dead Hippie.
    Dude, I LOVE the Left Insane LP. My copy was acquired in a hipster clothing/record shop in Olympia, WA for a buck. A few years later I found the Static Disposal CD re-ish for $2.00. Just goes to show ya, college students’ lack of taste spans the generations.

  2. mrowster November 19, 2009 at 8:31 pm #

    Mark: haha yeah those ARTISTIC accents are so snotty, they couldn’t have come from anywhere else. And yes BATTERY F was effin’ weird – Simon Smallwood would have definitely approved.

    And somehow the fact that you love LEFT INSANE too doesn’t surprise me. It’s a shame they didn’t stay together longer, I can imagine they’d have only gotten more powerful with time.

  3. Tramble November 21, 2009 at 2:54 am #

    There is a MaximumRocknRoll article on the Artistic Decline song:

  4. Max D. December 4, 2009 at 3:45 am #

    The HENDRIX cover by LEFT INSANE is freakin great. Must get my hands on their cd…

  5. Tony Cicero March 28, 2010 at 8:17 pm #

    Thanks for the review and kind comments regarding Left Insane..I feel it should be noted that LI was not actually led by Paul Radabaugh but rather was a concept I came up with (and named) after Paul had toured with Saccharine Trust as a tech. During which time we became friends and I realized what an amazing guitarist he was .We were both influenced by Black Flag’s Instrumentals as well as King Crimson, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jimi Hendrix and Black Sabbath among others so LI came out of that..

    • rod October 31, 2010 at 9:43 pm #

      best band. (as i wrote below.) i remember seeing you guys live. amazing.

      how does one find that 7″?

  6. mrowster March 28, 2010 at 8:33 pm #

    Hello Tony! Thanks for the clarification – it’s only ’cause Paul is playing such powerful lead gtr that I assumed he was leading that project. My apologies. Rumour has it you guys used to cover KING CRIMSON’s “Red” too? That must’ve been hot.

  7. rod October 31, 2010 at 9:41 pm #

    That Left Insane record may in fact be my very favorite record, of all time, period.

    • Paul Radabaugh March 29, 2012 at 6:22 am #

      Wow, cool surprise here: thanks as it rocks me to see some folks into our really strong and somewhat insignificant band. LI began with Tony and I working out some new tunes with Saccharine Trust’ Bobby Fitzer. There was no “leader”, but after we replaced Bobby I supplied most of the material as we needed more of it, did most of the promo, booking, fliers and such. We came up with the name while getting baked one night in Tony’s black Ford. All lived next door to our spot and Stephen and Bill believed in us enough to to help us out a lot.

      Going further back, Jeff Charreaux was one of the earliest people I actually knew in punk bands and I’d tag along and see Artistic Decline at the Cathay. Battery Farley was more Jeff W. Farley’s thing and the textural experiments and tunes were cool. At the time I was listening to a lot of stuff and was anxious to aim for the stronger live component (The above comparisons give it away pretty well).

      • K. Donley January 25, 2013 at 2:10 am #

        great to see these 3 bands getting any kind of attention. although my dad was the bass player for Battery Farley artistic decline was my favorite. i would play that record everyday after school couple friends would stop over and weed thrash the room for hours. it was just one of those great punk albums that wasn’t blown up like the sst stuff. i was the only kid on my block that had it . pure underground. Battery Farley was truly obbscuroo stuff. Dad grew up a chicano brown beret during the 70’s then he lost it after oscar acosta died he was looking for the next movement and found it with the reagan hating punks that were floating around san pedro and the southbay. i remember walking in the smokey and loud living room and meeting the loud mouthed dennis boone aka D. boone. Alright back to Battery Farley Dad wanted to push the sound barrier with this one. He had stop listening to music for 3 months just to keep the head clear of any outside influence, while Jeff was a synth driven beatle fanatic.they were both great musicians and fantastic in the studio. i remember dad grabbed a hieneken bottle and taped it with his ring added some reverb. after listening back he turned to me and said “that’s how you get that country western feel”. after how many years later it’s still interesting music.

  8. Danny Dean August 28, 2013 at 4:24 am #

    Thanks for posting ARTISTIC DECLINE. I play a guitar solo on that track. Have it hanging on my wall with the rest of my label New Undergrounds records.

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